What can you do to improve compliance with disability access standards when they are misunderstood, seen as too hard to implement, and where buildings are in a serious state of disrepair? This was the challenge set by Australia’s overseas aid program in Sri Lanka. The aim of this project was to find a way to educate built environment professionals in Sri Lanka about complying with disability access regulations. Rather than take a text book approach to explaining the standards, the training group decided to take a universal design approach. That meant focusing on the reasons why certain designs were needed, not just the need to apply the standard.
In her paper on this project, Penny Galbraith details the particular issues Sri Lanka faces. Major heritage sites, assets in complete disrepair, obsolete infrastructure, and transport conveyance designs from previous centuries all contribute to the complexities. “Universal design was the ideal starting point, not least because of its emphasis on users, but also that it allows for acknowledging and embracing cultural factors which is very important given ethnic tension in Sri Lanka”.
Inclusion is everybody’s business. By definition it isn’t a fringe activity. Inclusion requires everyone to be involved. In the built environment that means people involved in commissioning places and spaces as well as the trades and certifiers. So it goes beyond access codes and leaving it to access consultants. To help, the Design Council has a free interactive online Inclusive Environments CPD training course. It is about raising awareness of population diversity and why we should be designing more fairly and sustainably. There is also a searchable resource hub that has relevant information and discussion on this subject.
A straightforward introduction to this paper from Japan argues that UD should have been thought of a long time ago, but wasn’t. So inclusive thinking hasn’t been part of conventional design processes. This poses difficulties for industrial designers, and if being inclusive doesn’t fit their processes, there is a tendency for designers to put UD in the “too hard” basket. The authors have developed a design process model that takes designers from conventional design processes to one that is more inclusive. The title of the paper is Universal Design Models of Development Lifecycle Process. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:
“UD should originally have been the basic concept behind manufacturing, but lack of recognition until now has created a large gap between the ideal and reality. Hence, many of the responsibilities will fall on the UD designers. As a result, designers will request from the UD promoters only a list of minimum UD requirements and asking them to settle for simple, offhand solutions to avoid developmental delays. In response, the UD promoters will emphasize the need to implement more than the minimum requirements by pointing out the difficulties of overcoming conflicts that arise from various user demands. Convincing the designers is a hard task. Currently there are very few examples or methods to explain the differences between conventional and UD design processes. Many times the designers think that UD design process will be the same as conventional ones, or they give up because they believe numerous UD knowledge and experiences are necessary.”
The paper then goes on to describe three ways of re-thinking the design process. Although somewhat technical in parts, it is another view of how to think about designing universally.